Battle of Somme 100th anniversary a time to remember

EDITORIAL

The centenary of one of the darkest days in New Zealand history today is a time to remember almost unbelievable sacrifice that left a lasting scar in the country’s psyche, but is also something that still evokes pride.

On September 15, 1915 the New Zealand division entered the battle of the Somme, which had already begun and was to last 141 days and see one million Allied and German soldiers either killed or wounded — making it one of the bloodiest battles ever.

On that dreadful first day the New Zealanders suffered 1800 casualties, including 600 killed. It was the greatest loss of life in a single day in the nation’s history up to then. (Even worse was to follow at Passchendaele, when the country lost 845 men in a day.)

In the course of the Somme battle, in which the New Zealand division spent the most time in action of any unit in the British army, the country reeled as 2000 were killed and 6000 wounded. The division suffered about as many casualties at the Somme as in the whole eight month-long Gallipoli campaign.

After all this cost, the Allies advanced a mere 12 kilometres.

Newspapers of the time show long lists of casualties. The anguish of families as they received the dreaded telegram that they had lost a loved one can barely be imagined. The social effect on the country, considering the smaller population at the time, must have been devastating — and was even multiplied as it was followed only two decades later by World War 2, the deadliest conflict ever to engulf the world — costing 60 million lives, including one in every 150 New Zealanders.

Adding to the tragedy of the Somme is the fact the majority of those killed have no known grave.

That makes the ceremonies later today at the New Zealand Memorial at Longueval, France even more poignant, and likewise Saturday’s 11am ceremony here at the Cenotaph when the battle will be commemorated and the colours of the Wellington/Hawke’s Bay Regiment will be presented.

It all happened a long time ago but it is something that should never be forgotten, and today and Saturday are the days to do that.

The centenary of one of the darkest days in New Zealand history today is a time to remember almost unbelievable sacrifice that left a lasting scar in the country’s psyche, but is also something that still evokes pride.

On September 15, 1915 the New Zealand division entered the battle of the Somme, which had already begun and was to last 141 days and see one million Allied and German soldiers either killed or wounded — making it one of the bloodiest battles ever.

On that dreadful first day the New Zealanders suffered 1800 casualties, including 600 killed. It was the greatest loss of life in a single day in the nation’s history up to then. (Even worse was to follow at Passchendaele, when the country lost 845 men in a day.)

In the course of the Somme battle, in which the New Zealand division spent the most time in action of any unit in the British army, the country reeled as 2000 were killed and 6000 wounded. The division suffered about as many casualties at the Somme as in the whole eight month-long Gallipoli campaign.

After all this cost, the Allies advanced a mere 12 kilometres.

Newspapers of the time show long lists of casualties. The anguish of families as they received the dreaded telegram that they had lost a loved one can barely be imagined. The social effect on the country, considering the smaller population at the time, must have been devastating — and was even multiplied as it was followed only two decades later by World War 2, the deadliest conflict ever to engulf the world — costing 60 million lives, including one in every 150 New Zealanders.

Adding to the tragedy of the Somme is the fact the majority of those killed have no known grave.

That makes the ceremonies later today at the New Zealand Memorial at Longueval, France even more poignant, and likewise Saturday’s 11am ceremony here at the Cenotaph when the battle will be commemorated and the colours of the Wellington/Hawke’s Bay Regiment will be presented.

It all happened a long time ago but it is something that should never be forgotten, and today and Saturday are the days to do that.

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Huw Jenner, Auckland - 7 months ago
Pretty cool

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